The Path to Heroism
01 August 2004

The labyrinth invites seekers into meditative wandering within a self-contained and compact space.

Two years ago I walked my very first labyrinth at an Episcopal church in Portland, Oregon. Found across religious traditions worldwide, the labyrinth typically takes the form of a large circular pattern on the ground for tracing on foot. It invites seekers into meditative wandering within a self-contained and compact space.

Unlike a maze, which can mislead wanderers into dead ends, the labyrinth's winding, undivided path is free of deception. While it curves back and forth on itself, it always leads to a single centre and back out again, ensuring that the trip will have a true beginning, return and end. Tracing its convolutions becomes a metaphor for anyone who has ventured out into the wide world, straying from the familiar, accepting loneliness and questing for the heart's desire--all while attempting to stay true to oneself. It symbolizes and mirrors back to each of us our personal voyage through life.

I was fortunate to be mentored in my first labyrinth walk by an erudite and engaging guide who helped us understand its significance. Across the ages, people from all civilizations have encountered universal rites of passage such as separation from their native community; wandering foreign lands; ordeals and tests of character; traumatic loss; recovery and renewal; and return to home as a changed person. By adulthood, all of us come to experience these cyclical life phases, regardless of our native language, culture or religion. Traversing the labyrinth is a meditation on this whole process.

Several years before I first walked the labyrinth, I had gone through a traumatic cross-country relocation, unhealthy marriage and subsequent divorce. Turning a bend in the pattern I was filled with the pain and sadness of those experiences. at a bend further in, the fullness became joyful affirmation that those same experiences had also been gifts. They had opened my eyes to the tremendous suffering we cause each other, and ourselves. They had motivated me to understand human conflict, and learn how to transform it. They had awakened a commitment to serve my family. And they had brought me into restorative community with Initiatives of Change, whose inspirational 'waters' helped renew and enlarge my sense of purpose.

At the labyrinth's centre I let a peaceful, cleansing stillness wash over me. Returning outward I grew vigorous and practical again and began to consider fresh ways that I could apply all I'd learned and gained over the last few years into meaningful, life-affirming effort.Back at home, flipping across TV channels past one reality show after another, it was easy to see how these same rites of passage often lead to fame and fortune as well. Today's 'celebrity industrial complex' pushes willing glory hounds through a series of very public challenges, and pops out instant 'personalities' at the other end.

Our absorption with this superficial phenomenon is so pervasive, I often wonder to what extent it compromises our development as a society. And yet the path to celebrity and the path to transformational heroism can actually converge for quite a stretch before reaching their distinct ends.

So in the end, what distinguishes celebrity from heroism? As my labyrinth guide had helped us to see, the celebrity hoards his treasure, while the true hero returns home to bestow it upon his community. It is this latter act of grace that makes a public star into a real exemplar, and uplifts humanity in the process.

Unless stated otherwise, all content on this site falls under the terms of the Creative Commons Licence 3.0